Wednesday , February 14, 2018 - 10:00 PM
(c) 2018, The Washington Post.
NEW YORK - The break has come at the just the right time for the Washington Wizards.
In its final game Wednesday night before the seven-day all-star break, Washington played with only one true point guard. The Wizards’ roster was so bare that rookie forward Devin Robinson got a call to leave the G League and put on the uniform for a night.
And with tension between John Wall and Marcin Gortat becoming a topic of national interest, Coach Scott Brooks spent a few minutes before his team’s 118-112 win over the New York Knicks trying to extinguish the flames within the locker room.
Such is the state of the Wizards (33-24). Washington trailed by 27 points in the first half then overwhelmed the Knicks behind 65 percent shooting in the second half, including 7 of 9 from Bradley Beal (team-high 36 points). In the closing minutes, players stood and cheered Washington’s sixth win in eight games and to celebrate the largest comeback in the NBA this season.
“It could’ve got ugly,” Beal said. “If we didn’t turn it on. Overall, we take positives out of it. It was a good win for us.”
The night sent the Wizards into the break on a high note as they take some time to heal - not just physically.
Wall, who underwent left knee surgery late last month and has missed the past eight games, traveled with the team before he headed to Los Angeles for his all-star obligations. Dressed in a gray suit on the bench, he sat next to Gortat in the first quarter, and network cameras captured this shot of the teammates as a way to discuss their connection.
Last week, the players had a face-to-face talk, as first reported by ESPN. Wall, who could remain sidelined for another six weeks, had taken offense to a tweet that Gortat recently sent out in which the center praised a “team” win by putting the words in quotes. On Wednesday, Gortat addressed the meeting.
“Good. We good,” Gortat responded when asked of the state of his relationship with Wall. “We talked and everything is fine. We had a conversation and like I said from day one, everything was blown up out of proportion. We talked about different things and we’re good. We’re completely fine.”
Even before Wall perceived Gortat’s social media “team” praise as a backhanded slight, the two have not always appeared to be aligned this season.
In October, Gortat mocked LaVar Ball for saying the Wizards needed to “beware” ahead of a game against his rookie son Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers, tweeting that “@JohnWall will torture [Lonzo] for 48 min.” The Wizards went on to lose to the Lakers.
In early November, after Wall told ESPN the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers “didn’t want to see us,” in the playoffs - implying LeBron James’s team had lost games in the regular season to dodge the Wizards in the second round - Gortat suggested a few days after that loss the Wizards needed “to become a more humble team.”
Following the Wizards’ Nov. 9 rematch against the Lakers, Wall was asked about Gortat’s advice on modesty and scoffed. “I don’t think it’s needing to calm down talking too confidently,” Wall said. “The reason why it got out of hand because [Gortat] said something first.”
Those close to the players believed that a small portion to the team’s early success since Wall’s surgery was that Wall and Gortat were able to take a deep breath away from each other. In the teammates’ recent meeting, accounts differ in how contentious it became. However, their talk did not last long. And although Gortat affirmed that he and Wall are “good,” it is believed that the brief communication likely did not resolve their issues. When Brooks was asked about the talk, he tried to give the impression the team has moved on.
“It’s behind us,” Brooks said. “Like every team throughout the years you’ll have heated discussions and debates and it’s behind us. It’s time to ... move forward. Both players are obviously important to us. It’s time to move on.”
Although Wall has appeared in just 37 games, he remains the top passer for Gortat, assisting on 68 of his 210 made shots from the floor. Their off-court tensions aside, once Wall returns he is expected to continue to pass to Gortat, according to person with knowledge of the players’ relationship. On Wednesday, Wall watched as the Wizards’ ball movement, led by a bandaged but concussion-free Tomas Satoransky, pulled the team from a 27-point deficit.
“We stayed together and showed a little character,” Satoransky said. “After the first half, we really said to ourselves we don’t want to finish like that.”
The Wizards stormed into the second half by hitting 11 of 13 shots, sharing the ball for eight assists and silencing the once-boisterous Tim Hardaway Jr. In the first half, Hardaway had 32 points on 12-of-14 shooting but started chirping with Beal, who made it his mission to shut him down. Hardaway scored only five points in the second half.
“That’s my man,” Beal said of his friend Hardaway. “We were talking a little trash. It’s just a will. It’s just pride. I take pride in defense. I told him he wasn’t going to score again.”
Satoransky returned to the court after passing a battery of tests following a hard fall in a game Saturday. He showed no ill effects while finishing with nine points but a career high in assists (11) and blocks (three) while playing 33 minutes without a backup. On Monday, Tim Frazier, the third point guard, had surgery to repair a nose fracture and missed the team’s send-off to the break. So, when Satoransky was off the court, forwards Otto Porter Jr. (22 points, three assists) and Kelly Oubre Jr. along with Beal (seven assists) split time in bringing the ball up the court.
While Frazier should return following the break and play with a fitted mask, Washington remains in the search for backup point guard depth. Washington has surveyed the landscape of veteran free agents but has moved at a slow pace. Two of the players on the Wizards’ list, Derrick Rose and Ramon Sessions, have also emerged as candidates for the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the meantime, Robinson could move back and forth from the G League to the Wizards’ roster after the all-star break. For now, the Wizards are happy for the positive momentum heading into their vacations.
“It’s huge,” Gortat said of Wednesday’s win. “The first half, it looked like we were already in the break but the second half we came back. A lot of players played big and we won and I’m just glad we came out with a win. Now we deserve to go into break and rest for a few days and hopefully come back after the break and ... the last 20 something games, we’re going to make a run.”
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